When Is a Show Ready to Spec? - Complications Ensue
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Monday, December 04, 2006

Q. When is it too early to write a spec script? It seems that with the popularity (that I saw) of West Wing specs, people would be in a rush to start churning out Studio 60 specs as well. But is it too early? Should a writer wait for a show to get legs firmly underneath it and become established, or do we just take what we have now and run with it? As you've noted, the show has turned to more worthwhile themes for the viewers in the way of personal conflicts, and we are a bit more accustomed to each character's voice, so it seems mature enough to move forward.
The received wisdom seems to be that you should never spec a first season show. The risk is just too high it will not get picked up for a second season, and then your spec is no good.

On the other hand, I believe by this time last year people were speccing Desperate Housewives. Though how they did it, I can't imagine, with the serial plot line.

If you're willing to take a gamble, you could spec a Studio 60, knowing that at least it's been picked up for the rest of the season. That means it will still be on the air for next staffing season. (And given how awesome last night's episode was, I'm guessing it will get picked up.) Also in the case of S60, you know that everyone in showbiz has tuned in at least once and probably several times. It would be riskier to spec a Friday Night Lights, even though that got picked up, too, because it's not everyone's cup o' tea. A lot of people have the "yeah, it's good, but it's not my bag" thing. You might be safe with Ugly Betty, too. Or Heroes.

The safest thing is still to call agents' assistants and ask politely if they (the assistant) are willing to tell you what their clients are speccing. But if there are only a few shows you're passionate about, I'd say passion is the way to go. I'd spec a Studio 60, knowing it's risky, because I love it, before I'd spec a Battlestar, because I just don't get Battlestar. Your mileage will vary.

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14 Comments:

Yeah. I'm having some issues, because I would love to spec a Heroes, but it's obvious that they're so tightly inside of their bible that the whole first season has almost been a very long pilot.

I was thinking that after the season finale, before the new season, would be a good time to spec.

By Blogger EcamirG, at 2:22 PM  

Alex,

Thank you for the prompt response. Great advice. I was looking through the shows I watch, and almost all of them are new this year. Not all of them, but I just don't have the estrogen to spec Grey's Anatomy.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:02 PM  

Alex,

Thank you for the prompt response. Great advice. I was looking through the shows I watch, and almost all of them are new this year. Not all of them, but I just don't have the estrogen to spec Grey's Anatomy.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:02 PM  

Not to be a contrarian, but I happen to think the end of a show's first season is the perfect time to spec it, with certain caveats.

I speced a West Wing at the end of season one. So it got out there before the flood of WW specs. Everything moves faster now, and if you wait too long, it's too late.

Picking a marginal show is not a great idea, but for instance, you probably could have very safely specced How I Met Your Mother, D.Housewives, Six Feet Under, Grey's Anatomy, after its first season. The show had found its rhythm, and it's doable at that point. Waiting too long is as bad as doing a marginal show that's going to get canceled, because then you're just part of the mountain of specs of that show -- and you might only get a page or two before it's tossed on the pile.

And if worst comes to worst and you choose wrong, so what? you get better with every script you write. If you're starting out, you should be writing spec after spec after spec anyway.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:37 PM  

Let's not forget last year's "Commander in Chief" which began the fall season as a hit and died a slow, painful death by May.

By Blogger Isaac Ho, at 2:27 AM  

"Yeah. I'm having some issues, because I would love to spec a Heroes, but it's obvious that they're so tightly inside of their bible that the whole first season has almost been a very long pilot."

I've written on Heroes a lot recently and I think you've got it backwards. You can't figure it out because they have no clue where they are going. They are playing the same game Lost has been: questions, mysteries, more questions, more mysteries, make it up as you go along and never do the really hard work to figure out some damn
answers and coherently close out threads.

They haven't got a plan, so don't try to figure it out. Once you realize they are just shooting from the hip, it'll be a lot easier for you to do the same.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:58 AM  

That's an interesting take, Paul. And you're right... it does take the pressure off.

The way I see it, I don't want to infuriate them by suggesting that their show is aimless. By the same token, I don't expect the spec to get made; I just want to show them I know the characters and can work with them.

Television writing is very new to me. Strange land, strange customs.

By Blogger EcamirG, at 2:12 PM  

Not sure what you guys are saying about 'Heroes' - like 'Lost', 'Day Break', '24', even 'Dexter', they are all so dependent on an unfolding mystery that you don't know about that your spec could seem off the mark or obsolete wonce you're finished it.

Veronica Mars walks that line as well but I'd risk it as its seen as a cool show.

Good safe specs in my opin: 'Bones', 'Shark', 'Ugly Betty', 'Studio 60', 'Criminal Minds', 'Rescue Me', and even 'House' though its probably past its spec prime.

By Blogger wcdixon, at 6:24 PM  

If the show is picked up for a second season, then you can definitely spec it. Studio 60 hasn't been picked up yet - and chances are it won't be - so I'd be remiss about writing an episode.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:38 PM  

I hear you Shawn, but would argue that Sorkin (like Kelley before him) gives so many industry types a hard on that if you can even reasonable facimile his dialogue, and show you get the show, people will read it for next 8 months at any rate - even if it does get cancelled in spring

By Blogger wcdixon, at 7:50 PM  

"Not sure what you guys are saying about 'Heroes' - like 'Lost', 'Day Break', '24', even 'Dexter', they are all so dependent on an unfolding mystery that you don't know about that your spec could seem off the mark or obsolete wonce you're finished it."

People know this when they are looking at specs, and it'll matter much less since it won't be their own show they are looking at.

It won't really matter if you can make your spec magically fit perfectly if you can't tell a story or adapt your voice for character dialog. It's a writing sample, after all, not a test.

"If the show is picked up for a second season, then you can definitely spec it. Studio 60 hasn't been picked up yet - and chances are it won't be - so I'd be remiss about writing an episode."

Studio 60 was given a full season order over three weeks ago.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:49 AM  

Incase anyone is wondering what I'm talking about with Heroes, to save explaning, I've said about all I have to say on it here and here.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:25 AM  

"Studio 60 was given a full season order over three weeks ago."

I was referring to a second season, which is why I'm cautioning against specing it right now. I'd wait to see if it will be around next year.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:23 AM  

I'm a snarky female writer with a produced TV movie looking to do my first spec script. I know the go to show is Grey's Anatony, but I hate it! Should I go with The Office, Ugly Betty, or New Adventures of Old Christine?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:56 PM  

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